JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
Crossing paths with an aggressive mother black bear. Losing his footing and plummeting down the jagged terrain of a 3,500-foot mountain peak. He knows his adversaries, and he’s prepared to confront them.
Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant Pete Marshall, 47th Squadron RAF C-130J pilot, is in the Last Frontier for the first time, flying missions in Red Flag-Alaska 18-3 and summiting mountains in his down time.
“It take a few days to really get into the exercise and figure out what it’s all about, but once you’ve flown a few times, a lot of the briefs and pre-readings starts to pay off tenfold,” Marshall said. “The coalition team we have here continues to put pieces together and consolidate all the elements.”
RF-A is a Pacific Air Forces-directed field training exercise for U.S. and international forces flown under simulated air combat conditions. These exercises focus on improving combat readiness of U.S. and international forces and providing training for units preparing for air expeditionary force missions.
Marshall and other RAF members have teamed up with personnel at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, working shoulder-to-shoulder with Airmen from JBER, the Royal Australian Air Force, Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, Kadena Air Base in Japan, and Fresno Air National Guard Base in California.
The exercise serves as an ideal platform for international engagement and has a long history of including allies and partners, ultimately enabling all involved to exchange tactics, techniques and procedures while improving interoperability.
“Most of this training prepares us for high-intensity warfare, integrating with coalition forces, and ensures we are ready to go when the call comes in and be able to work in such a complex and dense environment,” said Royal Australian Air Force Squadron Leader Samuel Thorpe, No. 2 Squadron executive officer and E-7A mission commander. “This is the kind of training that really gives us that edge and allows us to be fully interoperable with our coalition partners.”
The exercise provides participants the opportunity to learn about personnel and integrate with aircraft they don’t see on a regular basis.
“My guys are enjoying the complexity and benefits they’re getting out of this, such as being able to operate with fifth-generation aircraft platforms on a daily basis which is something we don’t get to experience back home yet,” Thorpe said. “Working with the F-22 Raptors on a daily basis here is an experience we can’t get in Australia right now. It’s really working out well for us.”
Part of what makes Red Flag missions unique is where they’re flown – the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, which covers more than 67,000 square miles. This airspace provides a realistic training environment, allowing aircrew full-spectrum training, ranging from individual skills to complex, large-scale joint engagements.
“The JPARC airspace is significantly larger than most airspaces around the world,” Thorpe said. “It’s probably one of the biggest airspaces available for use in such a sparse countryside, which allows significant presentations to be trained against. It’s some of the best training in the world. So, it really is a privilege to be here working together and to be able to use such a unique training environment.”
Marshall said in the U.K., the tallest mountains his aircrew deal with are about 3,000 feet tall. In Alaska, they are navigating mountains 14,000 high or more, which can be further complicated by cloud cover hiding the peaks.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but the rewards are immeasurable,” he said.
Whether it’s summiting a mountain on foot and dodging wildlife, or flying an aircraft through mountains amidst aggressor aircraft, Marshall said preparation is the name of the game when it comes to success.
“I’m just making sure I don’t get eaten. That’s my main priority,” Marshall said. “In the exercise or in real life, when obstacles pop up, this teaches us how to navigate around them. So, a lot of what we do in Red Flag is contingency planning to predict any challenge which may arise, and creating plans to overcome.”